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What is workplace discrimination?

On Behalf of | Jan 27, 2022 | Employment Law

Federal laws prohibit workplace discrimination and with the hiring and firing of employees. Workers also have legal protections against retaliation for asserting their rights against discrimination.

Employment discrimination

Employment discrimination is illegal under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity enforces this law and prosecutes violations.

Employers engage in unlawful discrimination if they make employment decisions or make assumptions on factors that include the following protected characteristics:

  • Age if the employee is at least 40.
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Religious customs
  • Race
  • Skin color
  • Ethnicity
  • National origin
  • Mental disability
  • Physical disability
  • Genetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Parenthood

It is also unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees and job applicants because of their relationship with another person. This would occur, for example, if a business did not hire an applicant because their spouse has a disability, and they believe that their caregiving responsibilities would interfere with their job.

Other laws also prohibit discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, for example, prohibit discrimination against qualified job applicants or employees because of their disabilities. The Equal Pay Act requires equal pay for men and women. Job duties, not titles, determine whether their jobs are equal.


There are several ways that employment discrimination occurs. These include:

  • Making or suggesting preferred candidates in job advertisements.
  • Excluding applicants during recruitment.
  • Denial of compensation or benefits.
  • Unequal pay for equally qualified workers in the same positions.
  • Discrimination with assigning disability or retirement leave or retirement options.
  • Denial or disruption of the use of employer facilities.
  • Discrimination with issuing promotions or lay-offs.

Hostile work environment

An hostile work environment is also illegal. This occurs when a worker must endure abuse or harassment based upon protected descriptions to keep their job in an offensive or intimidating environment.

This environment may also affect a worker’s salary or status. A hostile work environment can occur during interviews when there are inappropriate questions about protected characteristics.

A fellow employee, supervisor or manager, contractor, client, vendor, or visitor may create this environment.  Other employees who see or hear harassment may be intimidated and suffer harm.

Employers may be liable for a work environment created by a supervisor or co-worker unless they can prove that they attempted to prevent it, or the victim refused their help.

Attorneys can assist workers with gathering information and proof about illegal discrimination. They can help them protect their rights and pursue private legal action.